"Mommy, I don't want to pray."

Toddler (not mine) at dinner. quinn.anya/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

From age 1.5 to 2.5, my older child was a champion grace-sayer. Every night at dinner, he recited "Bless us, o Lord, and these thy gifts ..." along with the sign of the cross. My husband and I patted ourselves on the back; here, we crowed, was incontrovertible evidence that faith formation begins at home!

But as with many parenting moments, I was soon reminded that nothing about toddlerhood is incontrovertible, especially when one is trying to make a fuzzy, intangible, conceptual deity a concrete reality for a little human who can't even reliably pull up his underwear. After weeks of decreasing interest in our pre-dinner routine, followed by a complete ignoring of the ritual, my son flat-out refused to participate, stating simply but firmly, "Mommy, I don't want to pray."

Here the spiritual rubber met the parenting road, and my internal debate began. Should I turn saying grace into another battleground on the long list of current fronts? Should I try praying spontaneously out loud at other times of the day to a) demonstrate that prayer is not confined to any one form or timestamp and/or b) surprise him into participating? Should I keep saying grace in front of him, ignoring his disinterest but hoping the repetition will one day win out?

Option 1 exhausts me just thinking about it. Given my personal prayer style, Option 2 feels forced. And Option 3 strikes me as stereotypically Catholic, as in, "Just go by the book and you'll be fine."

The better approach, I think, is to admit the honesty—and honestly, shared sentiment—in my son's statement. I mean, sometimes when I feel bored, cynical, defiant, fearful, weary, etc., I don't want to pray either. It doesn't matter that I'm an adult and I know that the practice of prayer might help ameliorate my stress. It's the effort involved in beginning the prayer—in committing time and energy to it—that deters me.

Ok, so I have empathy for my son. But I don't have a clear parenting direction quite yet (story of my life), because he's not an adult and he doesn't understand what he's rebelling against, and I want to continue teaching him that prayer is something he gets to choose while also making prayer something he wants to choose ... a balance I'm not sure I've achieved even for myself.

For now my husband and I will continue saying grace as a family. We will say it over the kiddo's loud protestations. We will say it before lunch, dinner, and occasionally breakfast. We will say it even if we're not feeling it. For if we at least model that we are trying, and hoping, and showing up, then maybe one day our little one will choose to join us.

Prayer #370: A Grace for Harried Parents

God, please bless the food I cooked 25 minutes ago, put on the table 13 minutes ago, and have since watched grow cold as I wrangle my children into seats and bibs and illusory obeisance.

Bless it as I shovel forkfuls between scoldings.

Bless it as my children toss fistfuls on the floor.

Bless it as I swap it, sweep it, compost it.

And wherever the food lands—creative bounty born of a nurturing earth—may my encounters with it remind me to emulate Your abundant and generous patience.